Otto Stockmeyer is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. This article is from the Spring 2019 issue of The Mentor, newsletter of the State Bar of Michigan Master Lawyers Section. Professor Stockmeyer is a member of the Section Council. His previous blog posts are cataloged here.
Trailblazing Women Chief Justices
Corral Those Stray Commas Says WMU-Cooley's Otto Stockmeyer
Recently I encountered three examples of comma misuse among legal writers. At first I thought the comma faults were random. But then I noticed they had something in common; in each case the comma preceded a verb. The commas create the impression of a runner stumbling midway to the finish line. From a law-school student publication: “May the odds forever, be in your favor.” From a legal newspaper: “And a lot of these kids, were really good players.” From a law-school press release: “[The law school] is committed to pursuing a collaborative approach in working with the Council, to continue meeting ABA standards.”
Tips For Making A Presentation
Lawyers are trained to be expert communicators. Yet speaking before a group can be an intimidating prospect for some, whether it’s a civic club luncheon, trade association meeting, or bar association CLE program. Rejoice if you are invited to make a speaking presentation, as there are many ways it can benefit your practice. Here are some tips for making your presentation an effective and impressive one.
Judge Fitzgerald's Final Precedent
Judge E. Thomas Fitzgerald of Owosso, Michigan, passed away December 27, 2018, at age 79. He was a trial lawyer for 24 years before his election to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1990. He served on the court for another 24 years before retiring in 2014.
Brief Award Recipient Becomes Chief Justice
One of Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School’s oldest and finest traditions is presentation of the Distinguished Brief Awards. Since 1985, Distinguished Brief Awards have been given in recognition of the most scholarly briefs filed in the Michigan Supreme Court, as selected by a panel of eminent lawyers, judges, and faculty members. Two or three briefs are chosen annually and are printed in their entirely in the WMU-Cooley Law Review. The award reflects the law school’s longstanding commitment to teaching and celebrating effective legal writing.
Specifics Make It Real
Strunk & White’s classic guide to good writing, The Elements of Style, urges writers to use definite, specific, and concrete language. “Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.” The goal is to write “with such accuracy and vigor that the reader, in imagination, can project himself into the scene.”
Will the Uniform Bar Exam Come to Michigan?
Last October the Michigan Board of Law Examiners posted the names of 451 law graduates who passed the July 2018 Michigan Bar Examination. Most of them probably hoped never to have to endure a bar exam again. But today’s reality is that more than one-third will likely change jobs within three years of law school graduation. And many would like to look for employment beyond our borders.
Beloved Storytellers (Part Three): The Appeal of Storytelling
On their respective sides of the Atlantic, both England’s Lord Denning and our own Justice Cardozo were beloved for their storytelling style of opinion writing. In his book Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, Joseph M. Williams explains the appeal and effectiveness of telling stories as a form of communication:
Beloved Storytellers (Part Two): Cardozo's Opinion Style
In England, Lord Denning was hailed at his death as "the best-known and the best-loved judge in the whole of our history." This tribute was due at least in part to his storytelling style of opinion writing. Are there American judges with a similar flair for storytelling? Surely one is Justice Benjamin Cardozo of the New York Court of Appeals (1914-1932) and United States Supreme Court (1932-1938).
Beloved Storytellers (Part One): Denning the Master Storyteller
Alfred Thompson Denning--England's Lord Denning to the legal world—died in the final year of the 20th Century at the age of 100. Before retiring in 1982, he had served on the bench for 38 years, the last 20 as Master of the Rolls, the head of England's Court of Appeal. At a memorial service held in Westminster Abbey, the Lord Chief Justice of England hailed Denning as "the best-known and the best-loved judge in the whole of our history." Lord Denning was most renowned for his clarity of expression. His judicial opinions (the English call them "judgments") were regarded as models of lucidity. He wrote in short, crisp sentences intended to make the law accessible to lay people. A biographer referred to his writing style as “pungent English." Many law students encounter their first Denning opinion in Contracts in a case involving Anglia Television's suit against the American actor Robert Reed for backing out of an agreement to star in a made-for-television movie. Lord Denning sets the stage in the opening sentences of his opinion: